Salathe Wall 5.13b or 5.9 C2

  • Currently 5.0/5

El Capitan

Yosemite Valley, California USA

Trip Report
Salathe Success with a Price
Friday December 7, 2012 4:39pm
Ropes on the Salathe Wall
Ropes on the Salathe Wall
Credit: climbski2

It was May of 2001 and all I wanted to do was climb ElCap.

I was so obsessed with Yosemite that I had eventually moved to Reno Nevada from Alaska. 4 hours to the valley and I just assumed I would be there every spare couple days I had. Do a wall every month!

The reality was of course something slightly different. Gas, fees, crappy jobs and life kept me from quite being there as much as I would have liked. Being a complete n00b who didn’t understand even basic aid technique kept me busy a couple years learning and banging my head on the big stone.

ElCap was all I had eyes for when I could squeeze in a week for the valley, which in reality was only a couple times a year if lucky. Lack of regular motivated partners didn’t help either. So I learned all the basics of wall climbing doing various pitches of various lines on el-cap and bailing my first 4 or 5 attempts. Although I’m not sure a couple of them even really count as attempts. First attempt was dragging a bag of gear 2 pitches up the free-blast with some guy I met in C4.

No, wait, actually the first attempt was getting invited to go up Lost in America with some local kid and his buddy. A-5?? Oh sure why not I figured? All I’d have to do was jug and clean right? I thought I knew how to do that. Hell I’d spent months in the big mountains of AK so I might be one of the few people whose first reaction to The Captain was , “wow here I am!! but I thought it would be bigger.”

I belayed the guy up the first pitch and proceeded to put my ascender setup on the rope and clean. I didn’t even know proper bigwall ascending technique. My setup was a single footloop system for crevasse rescue. Great for vertical or free-hanging but nasty for traverses and the convolutions of a rock wall. No problem right? I proceeded to clean everything… I do mean EVERYTHING.. stuff I’d never seen before weird rivets with cables on em, heads, you name it they came out if they could.

For some reason after that first pitch the kid didn’t seem too pleased. He and his buddy left the next day without me and almost took off with my rack too. I ended up letting them take some of my stuff. I learned a lot by observation and I did get back a totally ripped screemer when they got back. Pretty cool!
Sometimes it’s better to be a little more awed than I was starting out.

A couple years later and I’d actually dialed it in. But for various reasons had not quite made the top of an El-Cap Route. I’d come close on the Sheild. Ended up bailing from the triple cracks. Long story short, slipping adjustable daisies, heat and running out of water in the heat made reversing the shield from that high quicker than proceeding. Actually pretty cool but still another failure.

Getting ready to bail

At this point I was desperate, embarrassed and feeling pretty low. I knew I could get up El-Cap. So I planned my next trip meticulously. I would meet a friend in the valley a few days before my 30th birthday and we would do the triple direct. Easiest route on el-cap. We couldn’t fail!

I get to the valley, meet Pete at the meadow and he promptly tells me he can’t go up another wall right now because he is feeling pretty wasted from doing liberty cap. I am completely floored , so upset I’m in tears. I am desperate. I had felt in my bones that this was my time! I had to climb it. Desperate like Ahab or at least a politician. I was descending into a dark place.

What to do? What are the odds of finding a partner? At this point I’m willing to drag anyone with a pulse and a gri-gri up that damn rock or at least a gri-gri.

Somehow I meet a couple guys heading up the Salathe for their first wall and they mention they would be up for having a third who is good at aid. They felt they had the free climbing dialed and did not seem anything but psyched for things like the hollow flake. Cool! I then completely turn into an idiot and begin to tell them my resume… but not the real and fail version. An augmented truth version. Such that, sure, I’d climbed it before. Man was I desperate and feeling low with all those fails. To this day it’s embarrassing to admit. Really embarrassing. But thems the facts.

Their names were Ben and Chris but I do not remember their last names anymore. Really great guys and if anyone happens to recognize them after reading this TR I’d be glad if you’d post their names. They deserve credit.

So we made our plans, sorted gear, lugged bags and headed up.

Lonely Bags

The climbing went well and Chris sailed the Hollow flake. We had an interesting little snag when Ben rode the haul line above the pigs as I lowered it out. He always backed up his ascending with a gri-gri. Of course with the weight of the Bags on the rope that gri-gri was not budging. No biggy, left the device in place. A quick knot/gri-gri bypass and we moved along nicely.

The first real night on the wall was spent above hollow flake. We fixed a couple pitches above the ledge. I got my first lead in while fixing. Some nasty rope drag at the end of it though.

May 21 2001

The Salathe is nothing like the Sheild. It wanders through various big crack systems and many of the lower pitches are not clean straight lines through smooth wall. A bit funky. Not really my ideal but Ben and Chris were having a blast on the wide stuff and really kicking butt. The ear was my pitch to clea and man that thing is pretty bizzarre. I seriously about got my head stuck in that thing.. cleaning it is basically freeing it and all I could think was if I fell I'd just hang from my skull like a chockstone.

Ben cleaning

After getting pissed on by a party above us eventually I got to do a really sweet easy aid lead.

Ass shot with Ben and Chris planning revenge

That night we bivied on the greatest ledge on ElCap, The Spire! Ever since seeing Skinner and Piana's North Face posters it had seemed perhaps one of the coolest places on planet Earth. It does not disappoint!

We had a blast and fixed the next pitch before crashing out. Ben and Chris were fun guys, we bantered and joked.

Unfortunately I had to keep up my fake resume and it sucks. Lies lead to more lies and you never escape them if you don't have the balls to admit it. So here I am in the middle of a great trip with great partners and always I am feeling a bit lame. I'm climbing well and doing fine, a good team member but that darkness just nags at you.

May 22 2001

My day for a lot of leads

The pitch to the roof. C2 due to some trick placements in pin scars.

One of the nice things about doing a wall as a party of three is having someone to hang out with at belays. Three can go faster than 2 also because you can keep someone leading pretty much all the time.

Cris had amazing Tats!

The piss group above us on the Salathe Roof.

We camped at the roof the night before my 30th Birthday and fixed the pitch above.

May 23 2001

After several days we were ready to summit. Very ready and wanting to be off the wall. But wow! What a place to wake up on you 30th Birthday!

And here came the sweetest pitch on the Salathe Wall. I got the headwall. Long pitch since I linked all the way to Long Ledge. I simply cannot overstate how really cool this pitch is. Overhanging with a clear view nearly 3000 feet to the base. Easy C1 leapfrogging cams up a perfect crack. You find yourself 20 feet above your last placement pretty quickly. URP! But hey if a piece popped you'd just sail into air way out from the wall.

It does get C2ish at the alcove just before long ledge. Then a few really easy free moves traversing above that 3000 foot chasm till you pull up on a beautiful ledge. My leads were done.

Long Ledge looking down.

Ben and Chris blasted the rest. At this point I was feeling pretty wasted.

Ben about to head up after Chris leads the pitch above LL

Ben at the bottom of the last pitch.

Summitting ElCap finally was a great feeling. We were Ecstatic and Elated!!!

It really was a fantastic trip with two of the coolest partners one could ever ask for. Sadly I never talked to them again after this. Guilt from even the simplest of deception is a real burden. Deservedly so and self inflicted.

So I had finally attained my dream on a classic route up The Captain. I had been a fairly good partner and held up my boast. But tainted success is a stupid price to pay.

I hope you all enjoy this TR. I finally was able to scan some old photos.

  Trip Report Views: 5,542
About the Author
climbski2 is a mountain climber from Reno NV.

Did you like this Trip Report? Got something to say? Don't hold back...
Comment on this Trip Report

  Dec 7, 2012 - 04:43pm PT
Sweet! Congrats! TFPU!


Trad climber
Monrovia, California
  Dec 7, 2012 - 04:49pm PT
Great story and lesson...

If you're fortunate Ben and/or Chris will see this TR, get in touch with you and let you off the hook. Would that be cool or what?

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  Dec 7, 2012 - 04:51pm PT
Hopefully your buds will see this, you can close the loop with them and sleep with a clear conscience!

  Dec 7, 2012 - 04:52pm PT
Awesome! Way to go and thanks for posting!

Bob J
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Dec 7, 2012 - 04:52pm PT
F'ing Rad, great write up and TR, Thanks!

Trad climber
  Dec 7, 2012 - 06:11pm PT
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Dec 7, 2012 - 06:26pm PT
Were you "outed" on the descent, when you didn't know the way down?
It's too bad you didn't realize at the time that going up the Shield to the triple cracks and then descending counts for more experience than getting all the way to the top! (Except for not knowing the descent).

What were the dynamics of the lie?
Did they ask you specifically if you knew the descent, and that prompted you to distort your resume?
Or did you just feel bad about the Shield experience?

Andrzej Citkowicz far away from Poland
  Dec 8, 2012 - 01:32am PT
Great post Climbski.
I can relate to your predicament.
As a young boy I met this girl on one Summer vacation. I think it was my first true love. I made up a few stories to impress her. It worked! I was so happy. But the day we parted, I gave her a false address. (I had no telephon). I did that, of course, because I was afraid that if we had stayed in touch, my lies would be revealed and she would have stopped loving me. I have never seen her again. After 41 years, I still remember that terrble feeling of losing something special. But, I have learnet my lesson. Since that time, when I met a girl I liked, I showed her my worst sides first. If she could stand me, she had some nice surprises comming. Also, I worked very hard to have true stories to tell.

I hope you meet those guys again I and get your record straight.


Big Wall climber
Twain Harte
  Dec 8, 2012 - 01:46am PT
Great read! Thanks for posting...

Social climber
san jose ca.
  Dec 8, 2012 - 01:49am PT
congrats!!.. on you hard earned 1st el cap accent!!.. your pics along with a fun story to read inspite of your method on getting pardners and found the perfect ones you did yourself proud!!.. hope to see some more write ups !!.. Berg Heil!!.. cheers

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Dec 8, 2012 - 01:56am PT
It's amazing what desire will do to character. Self Overcoming is part of the next layer of character. Thanks for your story.

Trad climber
The land of Fruits & Nuts!
  Dec 8, 2012 - 03:04am PT
Good story, made my evening.

Still never been up the Salathe. Dedicated partners are the crux I suppose.

Trad climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  Dec 8, 2012 - 09:29am PT
wiping the slate clean

Trad climber
  Dec 8, 2012 - 11:10am PT

Ottawa Doug

Social climber
Ottawa, Canada
  Dec 8, 2012 - 11:23am PT
Absolutely fabulous! Good drive to finally get up the Captain.
Great story and I hope you get in touch with your partners as I'm sure they'll find this whole story amusing.

T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
  Dec 8, 2012 - 11:30am PT
Nice read, cool report, TFPU

Trad climber
Oaksterdam, CA
  Dec 8, 2012 - 11:09pm PT
wicked boots
dee ee

Mountain climber
Of THIS World (Planet Earth)
  Dec 9, 2012 - 10:31pm PT
Whatever it takes for the big stone.

Mountain climber
The Ocean
Author's Reply  Dec 10, 2012 - 11:11am PT
Thanks for the positive comments. I had kinda expected a few flames this being the Taco and such. I'm a bit surprised no one has yet mentioned they know these guys. I had heard they did a few more walls at least.

Snowhazed- yeah the boots were Vasque Sundowners and very comfortable for standing in aiders.

Clint C.- Ben and Chris had the grace never to call me on it if they suspected my BS.

I hope to have another BITD TR up in a few weeks about some ski mountaineering in Alaska.

Social climber
boulder co
  Dec 10, 2012 - 12:41pm PT
I know those guys well. I worked with Chris (his last name is Donharl) at Neptunes for years. I would recognize that tattoo anywhere. From the picture his partner is Ben Schnieder. Chris ended up being quite a badass. He did did the sea of dreams shortly after that and did reticent in 2003. (15th ascent or so) He lead the crux in under 3 hours. He also soloed ZM in winter. One of the most competent but laid back climbers I ever tied in with. I think he did 8-10 el cap routes in the space of about 5 seasons. He got to a point where he was onsighting 12's on gear and then got hooked on basejumping. I don't know how much he climbs anymore. Ben is a teacher in Denver and was one of the authors on the new South Platte guidebook. There great guys and as I'm sure you know they were great climbing partners. Its cool to see those old pictures surface thanks for putting them up.

Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Dec 10, 2012 - 01:26pm PT
I proceeded to clean everything… I do mean EVERYTHING.. stuff I’d never seen before weird rivets with cables on em, heads, you name it they came out if they could.

This is freaking hilarious. Love the TR and I bet you released a load of your shoulders by talking about something you do not feel great about. Congrats for getting up El Cap. I really want to get on it next early spring!! Another great motivation to go for it.

Post more TRs! This was awesome.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Dec 10, 2012 - 01:55pm PT
Nice to have you in the club.

It's a source of pride that I was able to raise my hand at the Oakdayle Festivale when the speaker wondered how many in the audience had climbed the Salathe. It's the second-most important Grade VI in the Ditch, or so close it's silly to split hairs.

Obsession's not good. In fact, Harding probably preferred Old Spice.
I prefer Old Spice.--Harding
I prefer Old Spice.--Harding
Credit: G I
Interesting photo selections, but Excellent.
Blue Eisele

Trad climber
Reno, NV
  Dec 10, 2012 - 02:27pm PT
Great TR Derek!!!

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Dec 10, 2012 - 03:04pm PT
Desperate like Ahab or at least a politician.
Excellent expression -- and an excellent TR. If anything, the introspection added a dimension I don't often see here.

Thank you very much for the post.

Big Mike

Trad climber
  Dec 10, 2012 - 03:25pm PT
Awesome tr! Thanks! Coming clean always feels good eh? I'm sure in the end, nither of them really cared, because you proved to be a valuable member of their party.

dirt claud

Social climber
san diego,ca
  Dec 10, 2012 - 04:19pm PT
You wanted to accomplish a life goal and had to fib a bit in order to get it done. In the end you came through and I believe you would have came out with the truth if it would have become a dangerous situation and you needed to tell them what was up. As it was, the trip worked out. Glad you were able to get this accomplishment checked of your "things to do in life" list. Great TR, thanks for the pics.
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Dec 10, 2012 - 04:58pm PT
Wow. I'm really impressed by the fact that you bailed from the base of the Triple Cracks. That'd be some work! I can't imagine reversing the roof pitch. Glad you found the energy and partners to see it through this time. As for your partners, take heart. A partner from 30 yrs. ago (my first summer in the Valley) found me recently on the Taco. Not that many people you have that bond with.

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Dec 10, 2012 - 05:07pm PT
Nice read! Those guys probably had fun telling their friends about climbing with a guy who pretended to have topped out El Cap, and then didn't know his way down. Looked like a great trip!
dee ee

Mountain climber
Of THIS World (Planet Earth)
  Dec 11, 2012 - 08:52pm PT
Have you done more walls since?
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Jun 22, 2016 - 08:47am PT
Bump for a really good TR.
Was this like the ST version of a church confessional?...LOL.
(Whenever I fall off the wagon and post on a politard thread, I feel I have to repent by bumping a good TR to the front page)
Ed H

Trad climber
Santa Rosa, CA
  Jun 22, 2016 - 09:25am PT
Thanks for the bump - great TR

  Jun 22, 2016 - 09:37am PT
DE's question is still hanging there for over 4 years now

Social climber
  Jun 22, 2016 - 11:48am PT
"The pitch to the roof. C2 due to some trick placements in pin scars"

AKA the hardest 12b I've ever seen. The pitch below that is a bit sandbagged too, 11b, yeah right!

Trad climber
Red Rock
  Jun 22, 2016 - 12:37pm PT
so climb2ski, did you ever make contact with them after this?

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Jun 22, 2016 - 02:13pm PT
Thanks for the Candor about the all too human experience. You rarely get flamed for telling the truth!

Trad climber
  Jun 22, 2016 - 04:58pm PT
Totally my kind of report. Digging it.

I just had Happy Birthday song sung to me in French and Spanish accents >1000' up on El Cap a few days ago. Not exactly the route I had hoped to do, but I take what I can get and feel grateful for what I did get. I am glad that your 30th birthday turned out as special as you had hoped, and apparently, it brought you tremendous wisdom as well.

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
  Jun 22, 2016 - 10:41pm PT
so climb2ski, did you ever make contact with them after this?

Chris Donharl currently lives in Italy, married to an Italian. My buddy stays in touch with him, although I haven't heard from him since he has lived there. And he does still climb, according to what I hear. Several years ago he was over on K2, and the word was that he was faster breaking trail on the Cesen Spur after storms, than the Austrian woman who ended up being the first woman to climb the 14 8000 meter peaks was following in his footpath. To this day, Chris is one of the most mentally strong people I have ever known.

You can get in touch with Schneider through Fixed Pin Publishing. He and Jason Haas are co-owners, and as was noted upthread Fixed Pin has put out the most recent and comprehensive South Platte guide. Ben is a great guy and still teaches in Denver as far as I know.

  Jun 22, 2016 - 11:43pm PT
very nice.

first trad climb i ever lead, involved a bit of not so white lieing at jtree that was in the same vein as your not so white lie...

it really is amazing how much good stuff i miss on this board... and i think i waste too much time on this joint...

anyway, glad it resurfaced and thanks for a great write up...
Did you like this Trip Report? Got something to say? Don't hold back...
Comment on this Trip Report
El Capitan - Salathe Wall 5.13b or 5.9 C2 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The Salathé Wall ascends the most natural line up El Cap.
Photo: Mark Kroese
Other Routes on El Capitan
El Capitan - The Nose 5.14a or 5.9 C2 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
The Nose, 5.14a or 5.9 C2
El Capitan
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

The Nose—the best rock climb in the world!
El Capitan - Zodiac A2 5.7 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
Zodiac, A2 5.7
El Capitan
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

1800' of fantastic climbing.
El Capitan - Lurking Fear C2F 5.7 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
Lurking Fear, C2F 5.7
El Capitan
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Lurking Fear is route number 1.
El Capitan - Freerider 5.12D - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
Freerider, 5.12D
El Capitan
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

The Salathé Wall ascends the most natural line up El Cap.
El Capitan - East Buttress 5.10b - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
East Buttress, 5.10b
El Capitan
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

East Buttress with top of The Nose on left.
More routes on El Capitan